It all began with a disaster. I was keeping several aquariums at the time, which has normally been the case since I was a kid. I had just purchased a few plants that I was excited to add to my prized 35-gallon tank. Because this tank was home to an abundant and thriving population of shrimp, I had been vigilant about only using Tissue Culture plants. But this made things tricky.
The selection and availability of TC plants at our local fish stores and online shops were usually quite limited. When I did find the plants that I was looking for, they usually looked like they had traveled halfway around the world [they had]. Also, TC plants often took a long time to acclimate after being planted, which was annoying. These problems with availability and quality eventually led me to crack and make an exception.
I had long been looking for a Water Sprite in TC with no luck. So, when I came across a healthy-looking bundle at a chain pet store, I decided to buy it. It was advertised as having gone through a vigorous sanitation process, which helped to convince me that this was a safe decision. Boy, was I mistaken! Within seconds of planting the Water Sprite I knew something was horribly wrong. The shrimp in my tank began frantically racing around, buzzing back and forth aimlessly. I immediately removed the bundled plant, but it was too late. The colony and fry in my care, that were only moments ago healthy and vibrant, began turning purple and dying off. I attempted to rescue as many as I could, putting them into buckets. However, within days, they had all died.
After frantically researching what had happened, I found a footnote in a Practical Fishkeeping article which explained that many countries legally require pesticide application on plants intended for export. With a bit more research, I was able to identify the class of pesticides used and the prognosis for my tank only got worse. Since these substances were not water soluble, no number of water changes could remove the chemicals. It could have been months to years before I could safely reintroduce invertebrates back into my tank. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours, down the drain. Not to mention the guilt of having massacred the creatures in my care. I was devastated, and all because of a single “clean” plant.
After licking my wounds, I began thinking about practical ways I could solve the problems that prevented me from sticking to my commitment to only use tissue culture plants. The issue of availability was fairly straightforward – grow TC plants right here, in Canada! This offered access to fresher plants that had not bounced around for weeks before finally making it to my local shop.
The problem of slow acclimation, however, was far less straightforward. This involved a research proposal, securing R&D funding, and required thousands of hours of tinkering in our lab. As luck would have it, a good friend was finishing up a stint teaching Fish Ecology at McGill, and was down to join me in a crazy venture only biologists could get this excited about. I must admit that we’re pleased with the results, and it would appear that our customers are as well.
As our little team has grown in the midst of lockdowns, curfews, shipping backlogs, and foreign competitors expanding into Canada, we continue to be blown away by the loyalty and support of our customers. We appreciate all of you who have had our backs and we hope to continue serving the Canadian fishkeeping community for years to come.
p.s. This also happens to be the story of why Water Sprite is one of the first plants we cultured.